Hong Kong sets stage for e-CNY use, to launch pilot ‘soon after Spring Festival'

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the digital yuan, Faster Payment System, Greater Bay Area, nearly doubled to 261 million

Hong Kong will soon roll out a pilot scheme for the use of the digital yuan – or e-CNY – in the city for shopping and dining, making the special administrative region the first offshore city to use this digital currency outside mainland China.

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“The pilot testing of e-CNY will be an important move for Hong Kong to strengthen its role as an international offshore yuan trading centre,” Eddie Yue Wai-man, CEO of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA), the city’s de facto central bank, said on Monday in a regular monthly financial affairs panel meeting of the Legislative Council.

He did not give the exact launch date but said: “It will launch soon after the Spring Festival.” According to Chinese tradition, this period ends on the 15th day of Lunar New Year, which falls on February 15 this year.

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The HKMA has been testing the use of the digital yuan since March last year, with some bank staff using Hong Kong’s Faster Payment System (FPS) electronic payments platform to transfer Hong Kong dollars into e-CNY wallets. Under the pilot, the HKMA and the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) will select certain mainland visitors and other individuals to use e-CNY at select shops and restaurants in Hong Kong, while Hongkongers who live in mainland Chinese Greater Bay Area cities will also be able to use the digital currency instead of two separate e-wallets previously.

Those who want to use the digital yuan will need to download e-CNY wallets, which will link up with Hong Kong’s FPS, to top up and make payments. The FPS had 9.6 million registered users at the end of last year, and the average number of daily transactions rose 90 per cent year on year to 670,000 in 2021.

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the digital yuan, Faster Payment System, Greater Bay Area, nearly doubled to 261 million

Eddie Yue Wai-man, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority’s CEO. Photo: Winson Wong

Lawmakers welcomed the pilot, which Yue said would initially focus on retail payments before being expanded to cover wholesale transactions at a later stage.

The digital yuan is currently being used in the mainland cities of Shenzhen, Suzhou, Xiongan, Chengdu, Shanghai, Hainan, Changsha, Xian, Qingdao and Dalian, as well as Beijing and Winter Olympics venues outside the capital.

The number of e-CNY users nearly doubled to 261 million last December from 140 million just two months earlier, said Zou Lan, head of financial markets at the PBOC. The surge came before the central bank launched its official e-CNY wallet app for public download in January.

the digital yuan, Faster Payment System, Greater Bay Area, nearly doubled to 261 million

The official digital yuan app. The number of e-CNY users in China nearly doubled to 261 million last December from 140 million just two months earlier, according to the PBOC. Photo: Reuters

Allan Zeman, the founder and chairman of Lan Kwai Fong Holdings and its namesake nightlife district in Hong Kong’s Central, said he would like to see his shops and restaurants join the e-CNY pilot scheme.

“Of course, restaurants and other shops in Lan Kwai Fong will like to join the test, because the e-CNY is the future of payments. No one uses cash in mainland China. Hong Kong will need to catch up and develop digital payments systems to attract more tourists,” Zeman told the Post.

The pilot will come at a time when few mainland tourists are visiting Hong Kong because of strict quarantine rules amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The number of inbound tourist arrivals plummeting by 98 per cent to 81,950 in the first 11 months of last year, from 3.56 million in the same period in 2020.

the digital yuan, Faster Payment System, Greater Bay Area, nearly doubled to 261 million

Hong Kong needs to catch up and develop digital payments systems to attract more tourists, says Allan Zeman. Photo Edmond So

Zeman, however, said it would be good to start the pilot at a low time to make sure the system works well, so that it is ready for the influx of tourists once the border with mainland China reopens.

The pilot has also been well received by Hongkongers living in mainland Chinese Greater Bay Area cities.

“I welcome the pilot test of e-CNY, as it is a practical means to accelerate the integration of people living in the Greater Bay Area,” said Wilson Chow, partner and global TMT leader at accounting firm PwC. Chow has lived in Shenzhen since 2003.

“Many people including myself currently use two mobile wallets – one denominated in the yuan and the other in Hong Kong dollars – to make payments for retail consumption undertaken in mainland China and Hong Kong. With the use of one e-CNY wallet across the Greater Bay Area, it would make mobile payments more convenient,” he said.

The e-CNY is operated via a secured blockchain system governed by the PBOC, so people need not have any security concerns, Chow added.

The HKMA is also studying the launch of a digital Hong Kong dollar called e-HKD, and more details will become available in the middle of this year.

The authority was also in discussions with banks about helping small and medium enterprises hit hard hit by the fifth wave of the pandemic, Yue said on Monday.

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